Talking to Victor Rivas Rivers, you’d never imagine his past.
The veteran film star has a light, comforting voice and kind eyes, adding to the shock of finding out his upbringing was far from what it should have been.
It was heartbreaking, listening to him recount his childhood abuse and what life was like living in the war zone that is domestic violence.
The most chilling part I will never forget is when he told us a story about a woman who collapsed on her way home from the laundromat from exhaustion and was sent to the hospital without her family knowing where she was.
And then, of a little boy who walked to the police station in his hometown, stripped off all his clothes and then told police, who were looking at his body covered in burns, welts and bruises, that they need to arrest his father because his father keeps hurting him and his family.
“That little boy in the police station was me,” he told us, “And that woman who collapsed was my mother.”
Domestic violence still feels like a taboo subject, doesn’t it? It’s something everyone knows is an issue in our society, yet any time discussions of it come up, people tend to shy away.
I lived through my own domestic violence war zone until the age of 15, and I still don’t like to talk about it.
When I sat down at the recent Multi-Service Center luncheon, I wasn’t prepared for what Rivers was about to tell us. And more so, I wasn’t prepared for how much of my own past it would bring up.
Dr. Linda Girgis put it very well in her article, “What happens to the kids of child abuse when they grow up,” when she said “During the time that some kids are learning to ride their bikes or other normal childhood activities, kids like me learn how to be silent (not quiet) because the tiniest hint of noise can be a trigger to set off the anger.”
Anyone who has experienced child abuse can confirm, there are almost always triggers before the abuse. But for my own father, it seemed like everything was a trigger.
When he couldn’t find his keys, someone laughing when he didn’t think they should be, when I didn’t want to eat mushrooms. Anything could and would set him off.
Rivers said his own father was similar.
“It was from one moment to another, he could literally flip on a dime,” he said. “It could be something as silly as him telling us a joke for the 50th time and us not laughing as hard as we did the first time.”
More than the abuse itself, though, are the scars it leaves behind.
Rivers said even after he and his siblings got away from his father, he still carried a lot of anger inside.
He entered a gang and got dangerously close to the point of no return, he said. But the angels around him, as he calls them, helped pull him back from the brink. The angels in his life were teachers, neighbors, family friends. They saw him as a young boy in need and gathered around to help pull him from the dark place he was heading.
For anyone who has suffered from child abuse or domestic violence, you know how important the people around you are to your healing.
My mom and step-dad were the angels in my life. My mom helped me escape my own war zone when I finally told her what had been happening, and my step-dad showed me what a real father’s love was supposed to look like. Even when I carried so much hurt and anger inside, they helped get me into therapy, they helped me realize nothing that happened to me was my fault. It’s because of them I was able to heal and create a life for myself that breaks the cycle my father repeated.
For people who have experienced this type of abuse, though, it’s a hard process to go from living in a war zone to living in a world without the constant threat of violence. It’s hard to heal from parental abuse when that’s one of the first displays of “love” you’ve known.
This is why Rivers has devoted so much of his time to telling his story and reaching out to people who have experienced domestic violence.
And it’s why I’m sharing my story with you all now.
Domestic violence is a quiet crime, only if we continue to remain quiet about it. According to an article on Arstechnica, a study conducted from 1967 to 2010 showed that adults who experienced child abuse or neglect were twice as likely to be reported to Child Protective Services for child maltreatment.
This is not a cycle we have to continue. We are not statistics and this is not our truth.
Rivers said that before his son was born, he was experiencing anxiety attacks.
“I’m the spitting image of my father,” he said, So he was concerned he might share the same violence his father had.
But the first time he held his son, he said he knew his cycle was broken.
“I knew there was no way I could ever do to my son what my father did to me.”
No matter what we have gone through, our past abuse does not dictate our future. The cycle only continues if we let it. You don’t have to let it anymore. If you or someone you know has been or may be dealing with child abuse or domestic violence, there are resources to help you overcome. The YWCA in Tacoma offers different programs and emergency shelter and housing to help you escape a dangerous situation, and a 24-hour crisis line, 253-383-2593, if you need help. They also have other resources listed to help you get away from your war zone and start the process of healing.
Fear stops us from talking about it too much of the time. But we shouldn’t remain silent any more.
You have control over your life. I know you might not feel like it, but I promise you, you do. Your past or present situation does not have to dictate what your future will look like.
Please, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you survived or are still living in a war zone, call the crisis line. Reach out to the angels around you, tell your story, enroll in therapy, let yourself heal.
You deserve to take back your power and create a different life for yourself.